How to Tell Your Employees No

January 2nd, 2017 Comments off
Hand writing Time To Say NO concept with red marker on transparent wipe board

As a small business leader, you must make decisions in the best interest of the company. This sometimes means having to say “no” to ideas or requests from your employees. Because you depend on your team so much and likely have grown close to them, being the bearer of such news can be tough. You no doubt want your staff to be happy and to remain enthusiastic about their employment, but small businesses simply do not always have the resources or budget to accommodate every desire.

So how can a small business owner turn down employees without losing loyalty? Try these tips:

Provide a straight-forward response

Sugarcoating will not ease the sting, so get to the point when delivering your decision (such as “It’s beyond our current budget” or “We don’t have the manpower to implement”). Employees appreciate a direct answer that includes an honest explanation about how you arrived at your conclusion.


Respect the person’s right to feel disappointed and even to vent a little. Phrases such as “I understand your frustration” acknowledge the emotional aspect of the situation. However, avoid melodrama and apologies. Everyone needs to view tough decisions as a fact of life at small businesses, not as a personal affront.

Stay consistent

Sticking to policies you’ve established for your small business gives everyone a point of reference and reduces charges of favoritism. Denying a vacation request, for instance, becomes much easier when you can simply cite the employee handbook’s paragraph on taking time off around the holidays.

Find an alternative

Instead of completely nixing an idea, might tweaking it be possible? Footing the bill for an out-of-state conference may be beyond your small business’s professional development budget, but perhaps a one-day seminar at a place within driving distance could be an acceptable compromise. Establishing parameters can decrease the number of instances in which you need to say no.

Revisit the issue later

As a small business grows, circumstances change. Let your IT guy know that you’ll be happy to reconsider his upgrade suggestions in six months if mid-year reports show a sufficient profit. While temporary shelving shouldn’t be used as a way of putting off an inevitable rejection or promoting false hope, it can be valuable when someone at your small business genuinely has a valid request that merits further exploration.

Show gratitude

Lastly, consider yourself immensely fortunate to have employees who think about ways to make your small business better. While you may not be able to use all of their suggestions, be sure to thank them for their efforts. Encourage them to keep generating proposals, and assure them that when the fit is right, you’ll offer a resounding “yes.”

Want more small business advice? Find the answers you’re looking for at CareerBuilder’s small business resource page.